If you are unfamiliar with the concept of 3D printing, prepare to have your mind blown. As you read this, absolutely incredible things are being done around the world using printing machines that build three dimensional objects. Things like brainwave controllable prosthetic arms that cost less than $500. Or 5 storey villas in China that can be constructed at a fraction of the time and cost modern houses require. The technology has even gone as far as 3D printed thyroid glands created from stem cell ‘ink’.
As exciting as those breakthroughs are, an industry that is ahead of the curve in terms of widespread 3D printing is dentistry. That’s right, next to your family clinic’s floss collection could be one of the most transformative tech tools on the planet. In order to get as excited as possible for the rest of this post, we’ve included a video below to help show you the wide ranging and disruptive ways 3D printing is being used today.
How Does 3D Printing Work?
3D printed objects are almost exclusively built from the base up layer by layer, a process called additive manufacturing. Other common machines use a process known as CNC milling; the use of precise and purposeful cutters to create a product to exact scale and measure. The printer creates an identical three dimensional replica of the image using the desired building material. With existing technologies, getting an accurate image of your tooth or teeth to be printed is as easy as taking a digital image with a specialized camera. This image is then uploaded to a computer that has Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. The final product is identical in every measurement requested, making the technology perfect for small and specific items such as dental crowns, bridges and dentures.
What Does it Mean for You?
Historically and in most current cases, dentists outsource the creation of dental products and devices to third party dental labs who then manually scale a model to create a functioning replica. Such items include crowns, bridges, veneers, dental implants and dentures. As you can imagine, this process can more time consuming, expensive and subject to error than it needs to be. Even the best in the business required a minimum two day turnaround to ensure a quality product made to scale.
This is changing dramatically however. Nowadays when using one of many available 3D printers, the total time required from image to fitted crown is less than half an hour. The technology makes every part of the process more efficient and effective. Currently some early adopter dentists have invested in their own 3D printers. This is ideal for devices like porcelain and composite resin crowns and bridges.
3D printing technology is here to stay. Today, the most exciting aspect surrounding the industry is that the evolution of these machines is merely in its infancy stages. While early adopters have had to pay a premium for existing printers, there will come an inevitable drop in prices as the number of manufacturers increases and labs and dentists have to compete on pricing. Also, as dentists become more familiar with CAD/CAM technologies, their billable time will also decrease, creating a myriad of savings for the end user. Although there is no telling where 3D printing may one day take us (3D printed rockets to Mars perhaps), there is a chance your next dental restoration will be printed using one of these transformative machines.